Tom Purdom





The Betzino-Resdell Exploration Community received its first message from Trans Cultural 5.23 seconds after it settled into orbit around the planet designated Extra-Solar Terranoid 17.

“I am the official representative of the Trans-Cultural Institute for Multi-Disciplinary and Extra-Disciplinary Interstellar Exploration and Study,” Trans Cultural radioed.  “I represent a consortium of seventy-three political entities and two hundred and seventy-three academic, research, and cultural institutions located in every region of the Earth.  You are hereby requested to refrain from direct contact with the surface of Extra-Solar Terranoid 17.  My own contact devices have already initiated exploration of the planet.  You will be granted access to my findings.”

The eighteen programs included in the Betzino-Resdell Community were called “alters”-- as in “alter-ego” or “alternate personality”-- but they were not self-aware.  They were merely complicated, incredibly dense arrangements of circuits and switches, like every machine intelligence the human species had ever created.  But they had been sponsored by seven different sets of shareholders and they had been shaped by the goals and personalities of their sponsors.  They spent the first 7.62 seconds after their arrival testing the three copies of each program stored in their files so they could determine which copies had survived the journey in the best shape and should be activated.  Then they turned their attention to the message from Trans Cultural.

Betzino and Resdell had been the primary sponsors of the expedition.  Their electronic simulations controlled 60 of the 95 votes distributed among the community.  Their vote to reject the demand settled the matter.  But the other five concurred.  The only no vote came from the group of alters tasked to study non-human sexuality.  One member of that group cast one vote each way.

22.48 seconds after its arrival, the Betzino-Resdell Exploration Community initiated its exploration routine.  The programs housed in Trans Cultural noted that Betzino-Resdell had failed to comply with their orders.  Trans Cultural activated its dominance routine and the routine initiated activity.  The first human artifacts to reach EST17 entered the first stages of the social phenomenon their creators called microwar.


The Betzino-Resdell Exploration Community had been crammed into a container a little larger than a soccer ball.  A microwave beam mounted on the Moon had pushed it out of the solar system.   Trans Cultural left the Solar System five years later but it had wealthier backers who could finance a bigger boost applied to a bigger sail.  It covered the distance in 1,893, 912 hours-- a little over two hundred and sixteen Earth years-- and reached EST17 six years before Betzino-Resdell.  It had already established a base on the planet and begun exploration.

Betzino-Resdell peered at the surface through lenses that were half the size of a human eye but it had been equipped with state of the art enhancement programs.  EST17 was an inhabited planet.  Its residents seemed to be concentrated in 236 well-defined cities.  The rest of the planet looked like an undisturbed panorama of natural landscapes, distributed over four major landmasses.

The original human version of the Resdell alter was an astronomer who had been interested in the search for extra-terrestrial life ever since he had watched his first documentary when he had been six years old.  Anthony Resdell was a pleasant, likeable guy whose best-known professional achievement was a popular video series that had made him moderately rich.  His alter immediately noted that EST17 seemed to violate a dictum laid down by an aristocratic twentieth century space visionary.  Any extra-terrestrial civilizations the human race encountered would be thousands of years ahead of us or millennia behind, Sir Arthur had opined.  The odds they would be anywhere near us were so small we could assume the advanced civilizations would think we were savages.

The cities Betzino-Resdell could observe looked remarkably like the better-run cities on Earth.  The satellites that ringed the planet resembled the satellites that orbited Earth.  Samples of their electronic emissions recorded a similar range of frequencies and intensities.

The Betzino alter riffled through all the speculations on technological development stored in the library and distributed them to its colleagues-- a process that ate up 13.3 seconds.  The catalog contained several thousand entries-- most of them extracted from works of fiction-- but it could be grouped into a manageable list of categories:

· Technologies so advanced less enlightened space explorers      couldn’t detect them.

· Hedonism.

· Deliberate limitation,

· A planet that lacked a key resource.

· Anti-technology cultural biases.

· And so on.....

“We must match each piece of new data with each of those possibilities,” Resdell said.  “We have encountered a significant anomaly.”

Betzino concurred.  Two members of the community disagreed.  The proposal became operational.


Trans Cultural seemed to be concentrating on a site on the largest southern continent, in a heavily wooded area fifty kilometers from a large coastal city.  Betzino-Resdell selected a site on a northern continent, in a mountainous area near a city located on the western shore of a long lake.  Three tiny needles drifted out of a hatch and began a slow descent through the planet’s thick atmosphere.  Two needles made it to the ground.  Machines that could have been mistaken for viruses oozed through the soil and collected useful atoms.  Little viruses became bigger viruses, larger machines began to sprout appendages, and the routines stored in the needles proceeded through the first stages of the process that had spread human structures through the Solar System.

It was a long, slow business.  Three local years after Arrival, the largest active machines resembled hyper-mobile insects.  Semi-organic flying creatures took to the air in year twelve.  In year eighteen, a slab of rock became a functioning antenna and the Betzino-Resdell orbiter established communications with its ground base.

In year twenty-two, the first fully equipped airborne exploration devices initiated a systematic reconnaissance of the territory within one hundred kilometers of the base.

In year twenty-nine, a long range, semi-organic airborne device encountered a long range, semi-organic airborne device controlled by Trans Cultural.  The Trans Cultural device attempted to capture the Betzino-Resdell device intact and the Betzino-Resdell device responded, after a brief chase, by erasing all the information in its memory cells, including the location of the Betzino-Resdell base.  The microwar had entered the skirmish stage. 

In year thirty-six, a native flying creature that resembled a feathered terrestrial toad approached a Betzino-Resdell device that resembled a small flying predator common in the area around the base. The airborne toad settled on a branch overlooking the eastern shore of the lake and turned its head toward the faux predator.

“I would like to talk to you,” the toad said in perfectly enunciated twenty-second century Italian.  “This is an unofficial, private contact.  It would be best if you kept your outward reactions to a minimum.”


Copyright 2010 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.

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